Stepping into gaps, why writing helps me communicate better, the therapeutic value of user research and a brief eulogy for Kobe Bryant
Welcome! We’ve been getting some incredible sunsets in SF lately so enjoy this one of George with the palm trees at Alta Plaza park. He’s a good boy.
✅ Stepping into strategic gaps
I've been mulling over the idea that "opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated".
If you’re unsure where responsibility has been abdicated, here’s one way to identify it: something seems like a problem and as far as you know nobody is explicitly owning the solution for it.
Often, these gaps between clear ownership areas are opportunities to step up. But not all gaps hold opportunities of equal size. It seems the biggest opportunities revolve around strategy, not tactics.
This isn’t to say that stepping into tactical ambiguity isn’t valuable. It just has less of a multiplier effect in the org as stepping into strategic ambiguity.
So how to best step into strategic gaps?
I start by asking the people who are closest to the issue a lot of questions. The goal is getting a full rundown of everything they know.
Doing this with a large group of people allows me to compile a diverse set of views and synthesize these into my own conviction.
Once I have an informed opinion that makes sense to me, I share it with coworkers and see how they react. Does it make sense to them? Am I overlooking anything? We’re social animals so other people are usually the best check on an idea. Also, if they’ll be impacted by the direction I’m exploring, they’ll definitely speak up (which is great).
I repeat this process until I have a sound articulation at hand that passes some basic scrutiny. Then I share it with people who asks what’s on my mind.
The key to making things better is getting people oriented in the same direction through dialogue and critical thinking. All problems are better solved with a shared sense of purpose in the team.
In a lot of ways, this inclusive process is my style of leadership.
✍️ Why writing helps me communicate better
Thoughts often start as feelings. Finding the right words to evoke a feeling in someone else is a test of my ability to communicate a thought.
If I’m able to convert my feeling into a coherent thought, then I'm usually able to express that thought verbally to another person in a way that they’ll be able to understand.
The key to this process is writing the thought down when the feeling is most intense, and then editing later when the feeling has no intensity at all. The removal of the emotional context of the thought allows me to then read it from the lens of an objective third party.
The objective perspective is critical because that’s the default perspective of the person on the receiving end of the thought when I express it to them. They have no sense of the emotional climate that birthed the written thought in the first place. The articulation of the thought in words is all they have for understanding me.
Failure to capture the full emotion with words makes it harder to share the line of thinking that leads to an emotional response within someone else. To evoke emotion in someone, I need to walk them through the steps of my thinking, ultimately bringing them to their own emotional conclusion.
It’s not guaranteed that their feeling will match mine.
But I’ll definitely feel heard and understood, which is a starting point for great communication. The best path towards bad communication is failing to understand the other person.
I see the responsibility for being understood falling primarily on the person doing the communicating. That said, the communicator also requires an attentive listener for feeling heard. World-class communication is a team effort!
🔬 The therapeutic value of user research
I’ve been on both side of user research interviews; I’ve been the one asking the questions and I’ve been the one answering the questions.
When I’m the one running the interview, I find myself at ease, curious, and intently listening. I often feel like I’m giving the customer an outlet to vent and talk about things nobody else in their life cares about. They can talk to their significant other about lots of things but they probably don’t care to talk in length about the nuances of using a productivity tool at work.
And while it might not make for entertaining dinner talk at home, our productivity tool is something the customer deals with multiple times per day, every day.
So it’s therapeutic for them to open up and share their thoughts and frustrations around our product. And I love digging deeper to understand them.
Conversely, when I’m being interviewed it’s so fun to answer questions and engage in a dialogue with people who are genuinely curious to hear my thoughts on their product. Having been building products for many years now, using a new product gets the critical juices in my head flowing at full speed.
When I’m asked, “Do you have any feedback for us?” my reaction is “how much time do you have?” Sharing my impression of a new product and giving feedback for how to make it better feels like therapy for me.
Good conversations don’t always have a specific purpose but research interviews definitely end up being some of my favorite conversations.
Speaking of questions and research…
Friendly reminder that I’m running a survey for a side project around new employee onboarding. If you’re willing to take 5 minutes to share insights with me, it would me much appreciated 👇
🏀 Rest In Peace
Last Sunday I was biking in Golden Gate park when my wife Carole texted me the news. My heart started racing and I felt a little dizzy so I pulled over, got off the bike, and sat down. I googled it, and saw headlines that confirmed the terrible text I received.
A helicopter crash? What?
Then the news expanded. The tragedy included Kobe’s daughter, superstar basketball prodigy Gianna Bryant and seven other people.
Like many others, I was devastated.
I grew up watching countless hours of Kobe Bryant playing basketball. His competitiveness and his drive to win were undeniable. But what I always loved about Kobe was his ability to bring the whole team along with him. He was always communicating, always showing his emotion. For a fan, every game with Kobe was an exciting drama with a hero/villain protagonist (depending on who you were rooting for). There was no telling where the night would go.
When Kobe scored 60 points in his last NBA game, he cemented his legacy as an absolute legend. Who does that!
Usually in a retirement game, a player gets a few minutes and it’s mostly a gesture for the audience to pay respect and acknowledge someone’s contributions.
But not Kobe.
Kobe played a full NBA game in his last game in the league and scored more points than most NBA players can dream to score in the best night of their career. Kobe went out with a bang. And that’s how I’ll remember him.
The loving father and husband who joined the Lakers straight out of high school, stayed for 20 years, earned 5 NBA championship titles, and scored 60 points in his retirement game.
Rest In Peace, Kobe.
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